PRSSA Nationals

By Shelley Gooder, Conference Director

“Perception is Reality: Inspring Effective Communications” PRSSA Nationals was held Friday, Oct. 14 through Tuesday, Oct. 18 in magical Orlando, Fla., which myself and PRSSA President Brittany Caplin had the opportunity to attend. It wasn’t until I was waiting to board the plane that my anxiety about getting on a plane for the first time in six years starting rising, and I started sweating profusely. But Brittany and I landed smoothly in Orlando International Airport Thursday night, and the adventures began.

A keynote speaker on emotional intelligence and public relations opened up
National Conference. The day followed with chapter development sessions
and chapter presidents’ leadership workshops. This was our fun day… we were able to visit Universal Studios and Harry Potter World. What an unbelievable place! We had
butter beers at the Three Broomsticks and shopped at Honey Dukes. I brought
back chocolate frogs, even though they don’t jump out of the box on their own.
That night followed with a masquerade ball hosted by Walt Disney World.

Another keynote speaker and chapter roll call. Every school that attended was called on to do a cheer, sing a song, or make some sort of noise to let our colleagues know who we were. The song “Party Rock Anthem” by LMFAO was popular, six schools made up their own lyrics to the song. The day followed with breakout sessions and a resume critique session.

My favorite was the “Breaking into the Business of Sports” session. Other sessions included: The Case for Diversity in PR, Crisis Communication: Confronting Reality with
Strategy, Fashion: Know How to Work It, Social Media: Think Before You Tweet,
and many more.

I attended Regional Conference Workshop where all Conference Coordinators for
those schools chosen to host a Regional Conference were encouraged to attend.
I was able to meet  the coordinators of the nine other schools selected,
and I gave my 30-second pitch about our conference. I also met Haley Higgs, PRSSA National Committee member in charge of regional conferences. She gave me outstanding tips and said she was so excited that the James F. Fox chapter was  hosting a regional conference.

A few more breakout sessions and awards banquet! We sat with students from University of Alabama, University of Dayton, University of Oklahoma, and University of Western Kentucky – incredibly great people who I am so lucky to have met. UNI swept the awards. We did not know their chapter was so dedicated and involved!

On Tuesday morning we headed back to Iowa, ready to share our new found knowledge with our chapter and create an awesome regional conference!

Lessons Learned From Tragedy

While many of us watched the terror that unfolded on Virginia Tech’s campus April 17, 2007 one man saw a completely different angle than what we caught on the nightly news.


Having faced a coworker fall victim to gunshots once before, Jeffrey Douglas thought he’d never live a day harder than that until one student opened fire on campus the morning of April 17.


As the communication director for Virginia Tech, Douglas became in charge of holding press conferences, establishing a base for the families that were rushing to campus to find their loved ones, establishing space for the hundreds of media personnel that flooded Blacksburg, and coordinating with local and state officials.


After Governor Tim Kaine declared a state of emergency, many satellite trucks, reporters and families swarmed onto campus. Virginia Tech entered into the first phase of a crisis plan—managing the emergency.


A “media city” was formed in the first 24 hours as officials tried to confirm a suspect. The “city” housed news rooms, briefing rooms, outlets with internet access, bathrooms, and food donated by local businesses.


Looking back at the chaos Douglas offered a Crisis 101 Plan for anyone dealing with a crisis. Though he said every crisis is different everyone can learn from these tips.


1. If you have a crisis plan in place, put it into effect immediately and drill it into everyone involved.


2. Establish a communication center. Keeping the media happy keeps everyone else happy.


3. Designate a spokesperson. During a crisis everyone needs to hear their information consistently from one clear voice.


4. Keep the president, CEO, etc. visible. It may save them from being blamed later.


5. Communicate as much as legally possible as soon as possible. From what Douglas shared, many parents were upset that their children didn’t know about a shooter sooner.


6. Stay on the message. Only disclose relevant confirmed facts.


7. Share additional information as it’s handed out.

8. Assemble with the media, police and volunteers and share information. Everyone can help each other collect information and confirm it.


To stabilize campus—phase two of a crisis situation—Virginia Tech made updates on their main homepage streaming important alerts and messages hourly meanwhile students used social media to share their status.


The university attempted to stabilize the Virginia Tech news we were all seeing across the nation. A Joint Information Center was created to route all information regarding the shootings to one location by including administration, local and state officials, local telecommunication companies who offered support, and the media.


In the days that followed Douglas said it was important to resurrect Virginia Tech, the final phase of the crisis. Returning to normalcy meant asking reporters to go home, offering counseling to those grieving and looking forward to the next sporting event—something Doulgas said was a great way to heal as the university attempts to not let this massacre define them.

Feeding the media machine during the Virginia Tech crisis

I can remember the fear and terror I felt as a college student when I first heard of the Virginia Tech massacre.  It is a sad reality that I was used to hearing about high school shootings, and nearly every school established a lockdown protocol to handle those situations as they arise. 

Virginia Tech was widely criticized for failing to notify students and faculty immediately after the first incident had occured.  The shooting issue had grown legs, now college campuses had to have a response plan so that students and faculty would be safe if such a crisis occured at their school.

In the midst of finger-pointing and the “blame game,” Jeffrey Douglas kept his composure and utilized effective communication after the shootings on the Virginia Tech campus last April.  Douglas disclosed the logistics of handling a “tragedy of monumental proportions” to a large crowd at the PRSSA National Conference 2008 in Detroit on Saturday, Oct. 25.  On April 16, 2007, the media frenzy included over 1,000 reporters, 150 satelite trucks and 150,000 web hits per hour on the school’s homepage.

He shared with the audience the three phases of crisis communications: managing the emergency, stabilizing the wounded and resurrection.  They had to instill confidence that the university was in control of the situation, while making the care and concern of the victims and family priority one. 

His advice for those who will be in similar situations is to communicate as soon as you can.  Because of the Virginia Tech massacre we now have HawkAlert at the University of Iowa, which sends text messages and makes automated phone calls when there is an emergency on campus.

A year and a half later, Virginia Tech is focusing on recovery and rebuilding a stronger community.

Stay tuned for more posts about the PRSSA National Conference 2008!


Driven to Distinction- UI PRSSA makes a lasting impression in Detroit

Greetings from the 2008 PRSSA National Conference in Detroit!

We stepped off the plane yesterday but we have already gained a tremendous amount of insight into the field of public relations. The Renaissance Center is a beautiful venue and the atmosphere is contagiously exciting-in the words of Mike Cherenson, Chair Elect of PRSA, “everyone is drinking the kool-aid.”

It has been hard deciding on what workshops to sit in on because they all sound great! So far, we have attended presentations about crisis communication, pitching like pros, global communication, branding, fundraising, how to succeed in the office without really trying, and how to make the most of our resources.

This morning, we attended keynotes by Ofield Duke, fellow PRSA and the “god mother of PRSSA,” Betsy Plank. We couldn’t believe our eyes when Betsy Plank took the podium. As members of PRSSA, we felt privileged to be in the same room as the founder of our beloved organization. After the chapter roll call, we were lucky enough to catch her in between the PRSA conference and luncheon. It was an honor to shake the hand of the woman that made it all possible. 

It has been wonderful meeting members from other chapters, including the University of Georgia, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, University of Southern Georgia, and our fellow Iowans at the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State.

Stay posted for more updates from the National Conference! 

PRSSA Love —Tegan